From pioneer bubble domes to Monolithic Domes
In 1983, in a History of Modern Architecture class at Harvard University graduate school, Architect Doug Stanton first heard about Wallace Neff’s air-formed, bubble domes. He said, “I was intrigued. Much later, after moving to Los Angeles, I attended a tour of Neff homes, including the one still-existent Neff concrete dome home in the United States, that’s in Pasadena, California. I loved the spacious feel of the interior of that small dome home, and I wanted to, one day, revive the construction method.”
At that point Doug did not know about Monolithic Domes. Then in May 2011 tornadoes devastated Joplin, Missouri and Doug began researching disaster-resistant housing. He said, “I found Monolithic Domes and discovered that David South had greatly furthered the technology of Airform dome construction.”
Since then Doug has been designing Monolithic Domes as homes, disaster-shelter additions and cabanas – each complemented with beautiful, practical landscaping.
He said, "The practical advantages of Monolithic Domes are that they are reasonably priced, permanent, safe and disaster-resistant, energy efficient and sustainable: exactly what we need in terms of construction today.
“Additionally, they are, in many ways, new territory aesthetically. I enjoy the opportunity to integrate landscape design with Monolithic Domes. It’s all new and exciting!”
That’s the trademark name Doug has established for the Monolithic Dome homes created by his Los Angeles firm. AFTER Homes as an acronym translates into Affordable, Fire, Tornado, Earthquake-Resistant Homes.
“But,” Doug said, “AFTER also implies that things have changed, and that it is now time to think differently and smarter about what we build, and how we live. We need to live in a more permanent, safer and more sustainable way.”
A Monolithic disaster shelter for owners of conventional homes
It’s not just an addition! It’s a Monolithic Dome topped by a beautifully landscaped patio or garden. It’s also the shelter you need should a natural disaster hit your area.
Doug said, “The idea of the dome shelter addition is that people who have a (traditional) home but would like to have a storm shelter added can have it – but not as a buried shelter that they would only use in the event of an emergency. A dome shelter addition would be valuable square footage to be used daily.”
Doug sees the shelter addition as a Monolithic Dome built to the side or back of an existing home and attached to it through a new exterior hallway.
He said, “It can be designed to be many things: a new bedroom suite, a family room, a recreation room, a study, a pool house, etc. No matter what its daily use, it is designed with adequate storage, a small kitchen, a full bath, and sleeping accommodations – so it could actually be lived in should the main home be damaged or destroyed.”
The Monolithic Cabana
Recently, using an Airform contributed by Monolithic, Doug designed and built two colorful cabanas. Purpose: To demonstrate and discuss the Monolithic construction technology at the Modernism Week Building Expo in Palm Springs and the AltBuild Expo in Santa Monica.
Doug said, “People very much enjoyed watching the demonstration, and there were many questions about the process, about Airforms, and about Monolithic. People really seem to ‘get it’ that this is a technology which makes perfect sense for building today. There unfortunately have been more and more tornados and fires recently, and ecological concerns also lend credence to the Monolithic Dome concept.”
Doug’s description of how the Monolithic Cabanas were built:
The process involved building the circular concrete floor slab first, so that it could cure for two days before the Airform was attached. Rebar was placed in the slab, and also extending upward out of the slab at the perimeter to lock into the concrete shell. The Airform was then placed onto the slab. Before it was inflated, we went inside to anchor the edge of the Airform onto the slab with a system of metal angles and screws, into the still somewhat green concrete slab.
We kept the slab depth at 3.5 inches, and because we had to relocate the cabana afterward, we did not have a deepened perimeter footing, which should be present for a permanent structure. Ours was considered temporary because it had to be relocated.
After the Airform was attached to the slab with the metal angles and screws, it was inflated and the rebar for the concrete cabana dome was put into place. Beforehand we created the blocking for the various shaped openings, which were added onto the inflated Airform as the rebar was put into place.
The concrete was ‘shotcreted’ onto the Airform. It could have been added by hand, but because this was a public demonstration to inform people of the process, we opted for the shotcrete application. We did add some plastic spacers to hold the rebar off the Airform, so that the application of the shotcrete would surround the rebar. Otherwise, the rebar would have rested on top of the Airform and would not have been embedded properly within the concrete dome.
Following the application of the shotcrete, we smooth-troweled the exterior surface. The blower was kept running all night, to provide the shape of the dome while the concrete cured. A constant power supply to the blower was imperative.
The next morning we turned off the blower, deflated the Airform and removed the blocking for the openings. There was some minor stucco patchwork to be done on the interior, and then the entire structure was painted for the expo.
The entire process, from start to finish, was accomplished in four days, with the majority of the work occurring on the two days when the expo was happening. Both of the cabanas were donated to community vegetable gardens, to serve as small meeting places or just places to rest out of the sun.